How I Hear It – Beethoven & Van Halen


My Nashville trip has been eventful and much longer than expected.  My one week has turned into three.  I need to get back north and as tempting as it is, I won’t quote or paraphrase Paul McCartney and “Get Back.”

When I was learning classical music, and classical music theory (known to many as simply, “music theory”), what helped was comparing classical music to what I knew much better and made more sense to me, namely, rock music or pop music.  The more I learned about music and different styles of music, the more I explored and then compared classical with those other styles  –  first soul/Motown, then jazz, folk, blues, country, world music (although I had been hearing that earlier without knowing I was hearing world music) and eventually hip hop, trip hop, acid jazz and anything else with or without a name.

When I listen to music, it usually reminds me of other music.  When I first heard Van Halen When It’s Loveit reminded me of the opening of the first movement of Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 (as well as a few other rock and country songs).  That is because they share the same somewhat unusual (for rock and pop) chord progression.  There are four (4) chords heard clearly in both, although in Van Halen, the chord progression is heard twelve (12) times, whereas in Beethoven, it is heard only three (3) times.  This chord progression is based on four (4) bass notes from the major scale – the 1st pitch followed by the 5th, followed by the 3rd, followed by the 4th:  1   5   3   4.  Three of these four bass notes are the roots of the chords:  1    5    and 4.  The “3” is the 3rd of the “I chord.”  This chord, therefore, does not have its root as the lowest sounding note in the chord.  It is an “inverted” chord, and there are are far fewer inverted chords in rock and popular music than in classical music.  The somewhat-unusual-for-rock chord progression is  I   V   I6   IV  (pronounced, “One.  Five.  One six.  Four.”)

Van Halen  –  When It’s Love

That     I   V   I6   IV   progression is heard four (4) times at the opening and eight (8) times near the ending of When It’s Love:

I N S T R U M E N T A L     A T      O P E N I N G:

0.00 – 0.09

0.10 – 0.18

0.19 – 0.28

0.29 – 0.38

N E A R    T H E     E N D    O F     T H E    S O N G:

4.02 – 4.10

4.11 – 4.20

4.21 – 4.30

4.31 – 4.39

4.40 – 4.49

4.50 – 4.59

5.00 – 5.08

5.09 – 5.19


The majority of Classical music is not as repetitive, in terms of a singular repeated chord progression, as popular and/or country music.  But the    I   V   I6   IV   progression is heard at the outset of the first movement of Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4.

Beethoven  –  Piano Concerto No. 4, Mvt. I

S O L O    P I A N O:

0.42 – 0.48

O R C H E S T R A    (without piano):

1.00 – 1.08

P I A N O     &    O R C H E S T R A:

11.43 – 11.51

Do these sections from Van Halen and Beethoven sound similar?  They are identical in terms of harmony and bass melody, and chord progression.  This intrigues me but probably very few other people, and I was even warned not to write this post.  Oh well.  I did.  I will not write posts like this often but I love the idea of parallels between music that at the surface should have little in common and I believe that hearing these parallels leads to a better understanding and appreciation of music.  I intentionally avoided explaining the elementary music theory and music theory terms and nouns above because I do not think an understanding of music theory is necessary to hear these specific parallels between Beethoven and Van Halen, and the education/explanation would take too long for a single post.

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Here is the full orchestral score of Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58.  Thrillingly to me and sadly to some, the printed musical scores Beethoven composed can be copied for free, i.e., they are in the public domain – one does not need to ask the copyright owner permission to use this music because the copyright term has ended.  No one gets paid when one downloads the scores to these excellent compositions.

One of my favorite and most used music website is IMSLP – the Petrucci Music Library.  It should be the first place one visits to study and download music.  (I intentionally left out some details in that last sentence.)

2 Replies to “How I Hear It – Beethoven & Van Halen”

  1. It would not surprise me if Van Halen drew from Beethoven. Edward Van Halen was an accomplished semi-pro pianist in his teen years.

  2. That’s a good point. He could’ve drawn from Beethoven. I wouldn’t be surprised though if he came up with this chord progression based on the appeal of its sound.

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